Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel Criticism

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Quentin Lauer (essay date 1971)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lauer, Quentin. “The Hegelian System.” In Hegel's Idea of Philosophy, pp. 1-14. New York: Fordham University Press, 1971.

[In the following essay, Lauer outlines Hegel's philosophical system and provides an overview of his works.]

The Introduction to the Lectures on the History of Philosophy is particularly significant, as we have already noted in our Preface, because of the place which it holds in the overall “system” which Hegel's philosophy purports to be. What that place is can be clarified in an attempt to sketch the system as a whole, which is at once Hegel's philosophy and his reply to those who would discredit the whole metaphysical endeavor.

In an attempt to overcome the abstract speculations of both traditional Scholasticism and continental rationalism, the British empiricists in general, and Hume in particular, insisted on the primacy of the immediate presence of reality in sensation. In this context, then, thinking—as opposed to sensation—is a movement away from reality; thought is a progressive abstraction from the full, rich content immediately given in sensation. The empiricists would, of course, have been contradicting a constant in human experience did they not see a definite usefulness in this process—if nothing else, it simplified reality to the point of making it more manipulable. Still, they felt that in thought there was a definite loss of concreteness which could be regained only by a return to the immediacy which the senses guaranteed.

For Hegel, who in this was seeking to complete the endeavors of his great predecessors Kant, Fichte, and Schelling, to answer Hume, it simply was not true that the locus of concreteness was in the immediacy of reality's presence to sensation. Taking his cue from Plato rather than from Locke, he was convinced that reality was more concretely present (more real) in thought, in ideas, than in sensation. For this he needed as a starter no more than the common human experience that in seeking to grasp reality more thoroughly we consult our ideas of reality rather than reality itself. Strangely enough, he found the warrant for this conviction in the experimental sciences, whose observations of the real world were simply sterile until they had been transformed into thought. With Kant he recognized only too well that “conceptions without intuitions are empty,” but in true dialectic fashion he recognized equally well that “intuitions without conceptions are blind.” This, however, meant more to him than simply that thought and sensation are complementary: it meant that, although a content of consciousness may be given in sensation, it cannot be fully grasped in sensation but only in a process moving from an initial minimal awareness to the (ideal) totality of awareness in complete rational knowledge; it meant, too, that the process of thinking is no more than an empty game, if it clings to its initial abstractness and is not characterized by a progressively more concrete manifestation of its content—which is ultimately (again ideally) the totality of reality. The totality of awareness, then, which he calls “knowledge” (Wissen) or “science” (Wissenschaft), is the awareness of a totality of reality; and this involves a realization that man will find the very reality of reality only in the awareness of reality which is at the same time reality's progressive self-manifestation.

The heart of Hegel's system, then, is his Logic, where philosophical thinking seeks to penetrate thought and find in it the revelation of reality. He himself characterized this Logic as “the presentation of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of the world or of a single finite spirit,”1 which is but another way of saying that the totality of thought does not wait upon the unfolding of human history in order to be identified with the totality of reality—even though man's awareness of this identification cannot be achieved independently of the historical process...

(The entire section is 121,248 words.)